The Three B’s: Bells, Birthdays and Bikes

This morning I was awoken by such a cacophony of bells it could only be attributed to the hunch-back of Notre Damme on crack.

I had had several extremely long weeks of work – the kind where sleep is lacking – and had been looking forward to having a morning off. Predictably this was snatched away from me by the neighbour’s triplets.

The intense ringing was high pitched, grating, and my fucking god was it tenacious. I laid in bed for a while wondering if it was even worth finding out what new toy they had, for surely sooner or later it would penetrate my life and I would come to resent it more and more each day. After 20 minutes of bell-ringing had gone by, showing no signs of stopping, I decided to get up and take a look.

I was horrified to find my predictions had come true. Someone had bought the triplets their very own bikes, equipped with bells. Individual bells.

Loud, individual bells.

As far as I could tell it was their birthday. This was tenuous link to make, as all I had to go on was some smeared icing across Thrasher’s face, a bedraggled grandparent in the corner of the garden, and a giant deflated balloon which had been burst and now remained slumped on the floor while the kids ran over it in their new death machines.

The only consolation was the fact that all of the adults seemed to be having as hard of a time dealing with this new development as I was.

Each parent added their shouting to the chorus of bells, while each grandparent meekly tried to swerve out of the kids paths. It was the sort of present a distant aunt would bestow on young children; to the kids this was literally the best day of their short lives, to the adults this present would cripple them if they couldn’t find a way to dismantle and/or destroy it. Cool Aunt would remain cool whatever the outcome was.

With my intended lie-in ruined I blearily moved downstairs into the living room. This is a good tactic when there is a particularly immense amount of noise coming from the garden, as the back door leading to our garden has a conservatory which acts as a welcome extra buffer for sound. Much to my dissatisfaction, the pitch of the bells managed to ring throughout the living room, too.

I hastily dressed and headed out of the house. My entire day was preoccupied by working out potential ways to somehow remove the bikes from my life. And, so, by the time the day was over I had achieved no work, but had a lot of budding ideas.

The Characteristics of Peer Reviews

The chances are that if you are working in academia in any capacity you will have to publish your work. The old peer reviewing system employed by most conferences and journals eventually becomes familiar to you. Ingrained, almost.

Reviewer 1 – Between 100-200 characters long. minimum grammar. Little structure, if any. Probs good paper though, I liked how they had a title.

Reviewer 2 – Between 1,000-2,000 characters long. Often content written by reviewer 2 resembles an entire rant cunningly disguised as a peer review. It is imperative that their opinions on the research area are fully stated, and stated at length. Reviewer 2 tends to organise this into a single monster of a paragraph where basic grammar becomes a fleeting memory, lost in the timeless void of incandescent rage. What they lack in structure they make up for in sheer indignation.

Reviewer 3 – Between 800 – 1,000 characters long. Overly polite, reviewer 3 is simply pleased to be here. The paper was pretty cool, the research topic is pretty cool, there are probably maybe some bits that could be improved with infinite time and effort, but they realise that you probably won’t do these and instead flag up small errors to fix instead. The only one of the reviewers to focus on one point per paragraph following a chronological structure. Ends their review with “cheers”.

Regular Workplace VS. the PhD Workplace

 

Workplace Scenario

Regular Workplace

PhD Workplace

On not completing work on time…

“Sorry, I’ve been swamped with another project and HR messed up their resource allocation. I’ll get right on it.”

“Yo, I didn’t do the work because I was so depressed even a kinder bueno and sit down didn’t help.”

On having your work critiqued by a colleague…

“Interesting, why do you come to that conclusion if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Go suck a dick, Keith.”

On having a comment made about your workplace outfit…

“Oh thanks Linda, I got this top a couple of years ago but never had anything to match it with. I’m glad you like it!”

“Huh, thanks. I thought I should make an effort because I’ve literally worn my pyjama trousers for the past 9 consecutive days. You just can’t see them when I’m chained to my desk.”

On meeting a new colleague…

“Welcome to the team, it’s nice to meet you. Where did you work before? Maybe I can show you around later.”

“This is my coffee mug. If you use it I will stab you. If you move it I will stab you. If you consume coffee intended for this mug, I will stab you.”

Hive Mind

Sometimes, I cannot help but consider the possibility that the neighbour’s triplets may have some sort of mental connection with one another, which others cannot fathom.

Occasionally they will interact with one another in such a way where I pause and think ‘this is what great and inspirational science fiction writers have been trying to communicate, this might be our future as a race’… and then one will promptly punch another in it’s face, and the magic breaks.

These rare moments of insight are amusing nonetheless.

They don’t last long, and are usually focused on a task or trying to convey a message to each other. Today’s moment of insight is centered on cornering the Geranium pot-plant in the garden.

This has gone way over my head, because the Geranium is already in a corner. I also have little idea why. As far as I can recall it has always been in that corner, and there has been no real reason for them to suddenly turn against it.

But against it they have turned.

Gravel

Today I had dedicated my entire day to getting on with some housework, because I am a lazy person and try and do all of it on one day.

If it cannot fit into that day it has to be shunned to housework day next week instead. This is a self-perpetuating feedback loop of never quite getting enough cleaning done, but fuck it. I have a life, and only 0.43% of that is caring about cleaning. My housemate was also working from home today, which he tends to do once or twice every fortnight.

As we were both stood in the living room we heard a peculiar sound. It was one we hadn’t heard before. It was loud, sounded like it was formed of many things, and had fairly short bursts of noise.

It sounded a bit like Godzilla with constipation.

Instantly we knew the cause of it – the neighbour’s triplets – but it was a question of what exactly they were doing. We stood and listened for a little while longer before concluding that we had no sodding idea what was going on. Upon running up to the second floor and looking out over the garden we located the source of the noise.

Thrasher was scooping up all of the gravel from the garden into a plastic bucket. The problem with this was that the gravel was around the edges of the neighbour’s garden, packed in to fill the gaps between the flower pots and the fence. And it was fancy garden gravel. The kind that are a dull purple colour which all middle aged Mum’s think is a nice addition to the skirting boards, when really everyone else wants to shout ‘no-one cares about the skirting boards, no-one will even see them, we are not paying more money just so people can not see them’.

With his newly mined gravel, Thrasher then climbed the steps of the large plastic slide. He dumped the entire bucket of gravel down the slide, where it gathered at the bottom covering a series of the hell-spawn’s toys. He repeated this until all of the toys were obscured, where upon he sat at the top of the slide admiring his handiwork.

Godzilla had taken a shit, and it was a good one.

Lipstick

The neighbour’s triplets have been awfully quiet today. For a while I had even assumed that they weren’t in the house at all. 

I briefly looked out the window to see what the weather was like and caught a glimpse of Arsehole standing motionless in front of the lovely blossoming geraniums.

I paused to ponder why Arsehole was being so… subdued.

 After a few minutes he turned around, deathly silent. In his right hand he held a tube of red lipstick, clearly belonging to Mum. In his left, he held a tampon.

The child was eating the lipstick. The entire tube of lipstick.

Deciding that I would not be the one to deal with this I settled back down to work and waited with baited breath for Mum to notice Arsehole in the garden.

Bad Email Habits

It is often protocol in my workplace to compare your email inbox. Academics for some reason take a great deal of perverse pleasure in trying to outbid colleagues for the title of “experiencing the most misery”.

“I’ve got more than 2,000 unread emails in my inbox!”

“Really? Well I received 1,500 in the past hour, 300 of which are urgent!”

“You guys haven’t seen anything yet, one of my postdoc’s gave my email address out to the entire faculty’s undergraduate mailing list!”

Just fuck off already. You’re doing email wrong.

I have a very different relationship with my work email. I receive maybe 3 or 4 email a day. At least two of those will be bollocks (the virtual kind, not the NSFW kind). The others are probably not worth my reading. As such I’ve developed a rather bad habit where I skim-read the subject line, or first sentence of content, and then reflexively delete it. Like a cat, twisting in mid air to always land on its feet. It’s instinctive and I feel like it preserves my life and/or sanity in some way. There are however three exceptions to my “flight” email reflex.

  1. The “follow-up” email.

When these pop up I feel like there’s been a glitch in the Matrix: I’m like 67% sure I saw something pretty similar to this before… Only it didn’t use bold, or red text… And there wasn’t an explicit line directed at me strongly implying that I should, for the love of god, respond like some sort of functioning adult…

  1. The “amusing” email.

Primarily, emails from Vasile Zhang appear in this category.

Vasile used to work in my faculty many moons ago. Once he completed his PhD he set up a journal and appointed himself editor and chief. This meant that whenever he sneezed out a thought onto a conveniently located piece of paper he could submit it to the journal, approve it more or less without peer review, and publish it into the wider academic world. The University caught onto this pretty quickly and stopped him spam-mailing the shit out of the faculty and advertising to naive students with captivating lines such as “ You should publish with Chang’s journal as it would be good practise before submitting to a good journal”. Rather hilariously, he still somehow manages to email the entire faculty, and it amuses me no end when my email client automatically pops up with “You seem to get a lot of these… would you like to block them?”

  1. The “accidental praise” email.

These tend to  happen when I review conference or journal papers where the organisation in question will send out a pre-set email which automatically states “Dear Professor ‘X’”, or “Dr ‘X’, we require your expert knowledge in this area”.

You and I both know that half of your review force are PhD students: I weep over my data one tear at a time, just like everyone else.

But, it still makes you feel sort of good. Like if you were to wander around in the research community introducing yourself as one of the illustrious email titles, then chances are that no one would challenge you about it. As such, these emails stay. Firstly, it’s a weird bonding habit you form with your fellow PhD colleagues, waiting with baited breath to see who gets a “promotion” first, like the world’s shittiest job-centre bingo.

And secondly, you like to think that maybe, just maybe, 20 or 30 years down the line you might actually fill those boots, and one night you’ll wistfully be going through old email and you’ll stumble across some terrible, long-forgotten institution who in some strange way cultivated the little flame in your academic heart.
And you’ll read it, and think about it for a little while.

You’ll ponder over just how long it it has taken you to get to this point… and then you’ll delete it because fuck it, you employ postdoc’s to deal with that shit now.